TEDxJohannesburg 2015 – save the date

Human progress is the story of one step, followed by another. Some steps small and personal. Some big and audacious. We thrive on both.

Courage and tenacity turn our impossibles on their heads. Curiosity and wonder propel us forward. We’re at our creative best when we take on our most daunting challenges.

Solutions to our biggest problems will come from #Moonshots; the most monstrous, awe-inspiring goals we set for ourselves.

So get ready for TEDxJohannesburg 2015. Join the discussion as we tackle our most demanding theme yet.

The date is Thursday 19 November. Be sure to save it.
– TEDxJohannesburg website

See the TEDxJohannesburg site for further details.

I was there last year for We the People – an awesome programme, varied and mind stretching. Here’s a few nuggets that I took away from the day:

  • Thoughts about “living on purpose” (Manda Nkhulu, Social Housing Investor).
  • Knowledge that 60% of unemployed South Africans are aged 16-24 (Barry Dwolatzky, Tech Visionary).
  • An insight into the “disruptive innovation” of digital printing (Michaella Janse van Vuuren, Designer, Artist, Engineer).
  • An ambition to visit the Mandela Sculpture at his capture site in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal following the very modest presentation by its artist, Marco Cianfanelli.
  • The discovery of my incredible West African Dance teacher, whose opening performance with Chi Diaries (Multimedia Ensemble) wowed me… I now dance with Vera every Wednesday night!

Who knows what gems you could walk away with!

Giving quietly vs celebritising charity

How can you give quietly but sustainably?

The limelight-hogging alternative may command many more zeros in the funds donated, but it’s not sustainable either.

Neither model is going to solve the complex problems in our world. To me, both reinforce an othering of disadvantage and keep segments of society apart.

But so does doing nothing.

For that reason I like to believe that if you engage as well as give – do something in the process of giving – then some of these issues lessen.

The mid-winter CEO sleep out in South Africa seemed to promote that logic too. But this article in yesterday’s Daily Maverick makes some vital observations about the importance of context.

It provides wisdom and opinion about a very public controversy that’s dominating SA social media this week, and troubling many passionate people who want to see lasting change happen in their country. Well worth a read: As an outsider with an insider’s 3-years’-residency-insight I’d say it’s one of the best examples that I’ve come across in terms of demonstrating the complexities of the SA picture. But that’s a discussion for another post.

The funds raised by the CEO sleep out campaign, though considerable, are a once-off boost to one organization dealing with one interpretation of the problem of homelessness. The most sustainable aspect of the campaign would surely then be the awareness that was raised.

Sadly I have to agree wholeheartedly with this author that a false picture emerged in this campaign, which risks doing much more damage than good, and sustainably so. No wonder it’s upsetting the development crowd.

So what would a social enterprise-inspired alternative model of the CEO sleep out look like?

That’s what I’ll be daydreaming about as I watch the continuing debate. I believe a social enterprise mindset could right this picture in future because it moves away from giver and receiver and changes the roles, to prioritize an honest business model whose beneficiary is society. The Big Issue is an obvious inspiration. (I’ll be interested to see commentary from The Big Issue SA on this.)

Have you got any others to share from initiatives that you’ve seen in your street/city/society?

I’ll find and share the #s to follow if you want to see more on this debate.

“Shared value,” prosperity, and coffee

I want to share a favourite article, which I believe offers a great way to think about capitalism, business, and the potential to positively influence social challenges at global scale. It’s a few years old and caused a real buzz at the time but people are still talking about it. It’s called Creating Shared Value (by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, published in the Harvard Business Review, January 2011). You can buy it online or the concept is explained in more detail here (for free!).

Shared value is about increasing societal and economic benefits. The idea is that businesses can create virtuous circles for economic prosperity as well as sustainable social solutions. Rather than addressing a social problem and creating a business model around that, as social enterprises typically do, it’s about commercial business re-designing strategies to improve or serve the society and environment that they operate among, for long term societal and economic benefits, and increased innovation and opportunity.

I’ve been thinking about shared value during a recent trip to my UK home, where I can see examples of shared value attitudes taking root quite visibly in everyday examples. Chatting to my step-mum last night I was reminded of the potential of shared value as she expressed her frustration about commercial companies oblivious to win-win potential of hiring employees with learning difficulties. There’s un-tapped talent in this community, which if channelled properly into the supply chain of the business world it could create amazing shared value. Here’s how the “virtuous circle” could work here:

  • Raised quality and continuity of products and services (created by motivated individuals for whom a repetitive task is satisfying).
  • On a macro level, increased job creation for a sector of society who could now enjoy increased independence and integration into society.
  • Improved employee satisfaction broadly, and ultimately productivity, as those that don’t enjoy the more repetitive aspects of their roles are required to do less of those tasks.
  • Reduced pressures on the government purse, with the learning disabled given more employment opportunities; reducing their time spent in care or support systems.

Individual, community, business, and government could all benefit from increased social and economic outcomes in this example.

Disclaimer time: I should add that I’ve done zero actual research into this. BUT my step-mum happens to work for a non-profit that supports and bridges the gap between youth and adulthood for those with learning disabilities, including finding work experience placements and setups, so I’m extrapolating from conversations with her about her experience. She also had a brilliant idea a while back about a cafe, based on the same concepts…

Technical but vital… B-BBEE, CSI and other acronyms

For the first time a report has been put together on the influence of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) on Corporate Social Investment (CSI).

Report Abstract:
Since 2004 South Africa has had in place legislation that regulates the responsibilities of business to the transformation of society, and this regulation includes an element that relates to corporate philanthropy. To date, however, very little has been documented about the influence of this legislation on corporate philanthropy. A new research report by Halima Mahomed, A Tangled Web: The Perceived Influence of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Legislation on Corporate Social Investment in South Africa, aims to partially fill this gap. The research explores the perceived influence of the legislation on issues such as the extent, flexibility and approaches to giving; highlights the limitations that arise from the structure and framework of the legislation; and interrogates some of its unintended consequences.
As discussions on the feasibility of regulatory mechanisms gain traction in other places, questions around what kind of regulatory incentives are appropriate; how best should they be located and targeted; and even, whether they are productive or counter-productive must be asked. It is hoped that this research on the South African experience will help to raise key issues for consideration and exploration.
For social enterprises looking to tap into corporate investment this report looks at the governance environment around these issues. You can find the full report here. To bring this all to life a bit and for a few practical examples have a look at these initiatives:
  • Africa Tikkun Services: Incentivises corporate investment through screening, training and placement services that attracts skilled youth from under resourced communities, for tangible workforce benefits as well as beneficial B-BBEE partnerships.
  • CiTi: CapaCiTi produces skills and professionals for the technology sector, working with underprivileged talent to skill, up-skill and re-skill for long-term employability in the technology professions. CiTi has level 2 B-BBEE status and partners with business for sustainability and mutual benefit. For more info see this recent video interview by Talking Social Enterprise.
  • Food and Trees for Africa: Plants organic farms for poor communities and acts as an incubator. Corporate partners invest in the social and environmental impact, which also provides an opportunity to fulfil B-BBEE requirements.

Do you have an example to share?

Clothes = Dignity

Future Families supports the psycho-social well-being of nearly 10,000 orphans and vulnerable children in Tshwane, South Africa. Through a community mobilisation model it promotes safer families and communities and builds knowledge, skills and capabilities that impact on poverty, health, education, and women’s empowerment.

As part of a social enterprise strategy to move away from a dependency on funding from donors the NGO has recently begun a number of profit-making activities to sustain the future of its social purpose and impact. One of these is a community entrepreneur activation programme. The business model uses the impressive community reach and training expertise of the NGO. It sources high quality second hand clothing in 20kg ‘bales’ from another community based social enterprise, Clothes to Cash Exchange, and sells these at below-market prices to trained groups of women.

The idea is to activate community entrepreneur potential through micro-business, for social and financial benefits for vulnerable families in communities where education levels are low and unemployment is high.

This is a big issue: There are 3 million unemployed people in Gauteng, and 4,9 million in SA (Stats SA Statistical Releases P0211 and P0211.4.2). A shocking 89% of these have no work experience. I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this post (a) has some education or work experience behind them, and (b) feels empathy for those that may never have had this opportunity.

Martha has been a client of Future Families for several years, attending a weekly HIV support group at the community office in Mamelodi township. Last September she joined a business skills training session to learn about starting a clothing micro-business.

Clothes are a highly desirable commodity and daily need. But the cost of travel to malls and commercial retail prices are prohibitive to community members who exist in a very hand to mouth living setup. Clothes are also declared a universal human right:

Article 25

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

And I’m sure you would all agree that they are vital to our dignity and individuality as human beings.

I recently visited Martha and her peers to find out how they are putting their micro-business training into practice. She was keen to tell me how her business is going, several months down the line, and I was impressed by what I saw.

Together with three friends who also attended the training – Julia, Anna and Linah – she has been buying her clothing stock from the Future Families community office in Mamelodi. Buying in bulk, at below market prices, Martha’s able to sell the clothing to customers in her community at a mark-up to create an income. She has been learning her own sales techniques and business strategies by experimenting and seeing what works.

This scheme is creating positive effects at every level of the value chain:

  • It builds skills and economic capacity in the community entrepreneurs;
  • It introduces an income stream (separate to restricted donor funds) so that Future Families can continue their work;
  • It supports the social purpose impact of Clothes to Cash Exchange, through the collaborative business relationship;
  • And for the end users –  the ultimate customers – it’s an affordable way to clothe themselves and their families.

With a proud and unforgettable smile Martha told me that she and her family can now eat before they sleep because of the income that her clothing micro-business is generating. This simple change in her life means she can put something on the dinner table for her family, and feel proud, and at the same time be investing in her own development and experience. And this sums up what I love most about this initiative, which also inspired the title of this post… Clothes = Dignity

Photo credit: Kat Holmes

So you’re a Social Entrepreneur…

Great practical insight for SocEnts in SA. The challenge of the balance – between seeking investment (which can quickly begin to replicate the donor funding dilemma) and spending time and energy on innovative business models that can effect meaningful social impact – is very real.

I’m looking forward to hearing more from Jaco…

Jaco Slabbert

…that’s great. But, before you book that ticket to the Skoll World Forum with a stack of business cards, investment briefs, and that gleam of hope in your eyes, let’s talk about what it means to really be a social entrepreneur.

It’s not fashionable, it’s bloody hard work

I’ve met a number of people that call themselves Social Entrepreneurs. It’s a great title. It’s an inspirational title. Yet, it’s also a title that you need to earn. Before the days of Social Entrepreneurship as a definitive field, you got two kinds of entrepreneurs: those that identified gaps in markets and created goods or services to service these gaps, the actual entrepreneur, and those who sat in their garage toiling away hours at night trying to get their super-soaker mop in local stores, the ones that called themselves entrepreneurs.

Social entrepreneurship suffers the same duality; those that call themselves social entrepreneurs…

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The Social Progress Index: A global social economics scorecard

The Social Progress Index (SPI) is a tool that measures and scores the world based on a country’s environment and society. It shows results at country level based on the themes of Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. It asks the questions:

  1. Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs?
  2. Are the building blocks in place for people to improve their lives?
  3. Is there opportunity for people to improve their position in society?

The scorecard uses a traffic light system to show country performance. Green shows relative strength, amber means neutral or typical results, and red indicates relative weakness. Have a look at this presentation on SlideShare and see how your own country scores.

I like the fairness of the SPI approach through its like-for-like comparison. It’s based on research that produced a methodology to find and group “economic peers”. I also think that the focus makes a lot of sense for a dynamic world view. Even the name of the Social Progress Index is forward-looking. It invites positive change and improvement.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. Take Luxembourg. This is the highest ranked country – according to GDP per capita – from the selection of the 133 indexed countries. But Luxembourg’s SPI scorecard is mostly ambers and reds, and contains only three green blocks, when analysed against the three questions above. A GDP assessment misses depth and detail. In countries like Angola, with high GDP scores, there is so much more to the picture than the health of its economy.

South Africa is compared to 15 “economic peer” countries including Colombia, Costa Rica, Tunisia, and China. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and SPI rank are very close: 63/133 (SPI) and 62/133 (GDP per capita).

Notable red blocks are Tolerance for immigrants, Quality of electricity supply, and Level of violent crime; all features of the local and international reputation that SA is often popularly reduced to. And clearly with reason. But there are shining green blocks next to Press freedom index, Tolerance for homosexuals, and Number of globally ranked universities. Do we recognise and celebrate these greens enough? How can we influence the reds positively, for change? And what do we need to do to raise the neutral scores?

I think the Opportunity pillar is key for SA; for the same reason that I believe in social enterprise as a model for future good. When I read the three SPI questions again I find all of them totally relevant to a social enterprise mindset and model.

Have a look at this TED talk by Michael Green, which looks at performance on a global level, and analyses some examples to show how the tool is practically useful. Michael comments:

In the areas of nutrition, basic medical care and access to basic knowledge, the world scores a very high 85. Those areas have been focuses of the Millennium Development Goals, which to me says that the world can make progress.

So we can use the SPI to measure world progress and see how government, civil society, business, and the NGO sector can work together to influence a country’s – and the world’s – performance. And we can do this in a very targeted way when we can clearly see important priorities and pressing challenges.

I’m excited about te SPI framework because it uses measures about its people and environment to provide a real sense of how a country is performing. There’s also more competitive opportunity because every country can influence its scorecard from within its own economic bracket. This promotes positive change that can be measured and compared year on year.

I bet you feel like checking out how your country scored… Are there any surprises?

Noisy Earth: encouraging youth-generated solutions to save the planet

What a great concept: inspire change makers in the classroom, get them to engage with challenges in their local environments, and tap youth innovation in the process.

Can you imagine the diverse ideas and inspiration that could come from running a similar initiative in our SA classrooms?

~ L to the Aura ~



Noisy Earth is on a mission to inspire students to take action and tackle the most pressing worldwide challenges. It helps facilitate this through providing cutting-edge resources to teachers for student engagement in stewarding change.

Founder Paul Neenos created the concept of a Responsive Curriculum while working within NYC school systems:

Ihave continuallyobservedmany challenges such as environmental degradation, income inequality, healthcare access, and immigration. Issues that are not well represented in curriculum or classrooms. So, I began developing an idea to bring the big challenges into our schools for students to engage with, problem solve, and connect with one another to create awareness and solutions.

His vision was to move towards a more hands-on, experiential, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) approach coupled with a cross-curricular framework to help students connect to a topic across multiple subject-areas. Noisy Earth provides a framework which accomplishes this through ‘Stories’ (such…

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African Development Forum 2015: African social enterprise

The ADF 2015 takes place today at University of London.

Its focus this year is on celebrating social enterprise driving social and economic development in Africa.

ADF 2015 offers a stunning mix of panellists, and a lively programme. They’re even laying on some music to wrap up, with a performance by Baba Adesose Wallace promised. I’ll share links to videos from the day soon.

It’s exciting to see SocEnt as this year’s key topic – another sign that this is a growing sector and priority for the continent.